Dear PoP – Bang Your Head Against A Wall Edition

Falling down Building, originally uploaded by Douglas – westbound.

“My condo building has a structural problem that the developer (who is very shady, but that is another story) never remedied. We scheduled an inspection from an engineer that established as much. We then attempted to draw on the warranty bond that all developers must establish with DC for just this sort of scenario. Here is the response from the city, which is beyond insanity. I thought buyers of condos in dc might want to know that developers can basically perform structurally deficient work with total impunity and no recourse for home owners because DC can’t even be bothered with hiring a single home inspector (or, failing that, relying upon the reports of private home inspectors such as ours — why even require if if they aren’t going to pay any heed to the report? Also ridiculous). Here is the response we received from the city government when our lawyer inquired as to the status of our claim. Utter insanity. What are all those enormously high property taxes we are paying going towards, anyway?

The City’s Response:

Once we have reviewed a claim, and determined that the problems rise to the level of a structural defect, we then send our own structural engineer to inspect the property. We review his report, and make our determination from that. We cannot take the property of the developer until we have had an independent party inspect the property. The problem is that because of budget cutbacks, the condo division does not have a structural engineer to conduct inspections. I cannot tell you how long it will take for this problem to be remedied; but until then, we cannot conduct any inspections. We can review a claim, but that is all we can do for now; we cannot draw down on any posted warranty security, or award any money to the owners.”

Wow. All I can say is – wow! That is unbelievably frustrating. It sounds like it was taken directly from a film parodying city government.

35 Comment

  • Send this to the “regular” media with a notice about your condo building residents building the world’s biggest house of cards in front of the Wilson Building in protest- and invite Jim Graham to solve the problem for you on camera.

  • Wow! Well, at least it’s not like there’s much condo construction going on around the city. Oh, wait.

  • Why not list the name of the developer. Some bad press can do wonders to remedy problems. Who did you speak to in the from the city? Post the name of the director of that department as well. We pay their salaries and should demand accountability.

  • Politicians often fall short on their promises, this picture drives the point home on the financial tribulations nationwide, probably taken in Colorado.

  • I sent this info to POP. I didn’t list name of developer as I’m not sure everyone in my building wants their name out there until this is resolved, as we may end up in litigation. I am not sure who the director of the department is, my sense was this message came from someone without any real authority over this. I will look into it as we plan to write a letter to as many powerful people as possible to bitch about this. It is utter insanity. We should not be paying all of these transfer taxes and recording fees and so on if the city can’t perform this basic, incredibly important service.

  • I would agree that it would be worth another call to whatever city department you first contacted. Occasionally you get someone with an inflated sense of self-importance who likes to make drastic statements that aren’t necessarily the whole truth. Besides, it never hurts to apply a little customer service pressure. This is ridiculous and makes me wary of buying any property in the district.

  • wait. was this a brand new building or one that was rehabbed into condos?

  • The piles of $$ the city makes on sales taxes of all those new condos makes it scandalous that the position is not filled.

  • You need to bring this to the attention of your council member. They should be able to move this forward and resolve…..

  • Since there have been “budget cubacks” does this mean we can cut back on the amount of taxes we are payiing?

  • Thanks for the suggestions. It was a building rehab by a smaller developer. It wasn’t a total disaster by any stretch, but there are a few substantial, material problems that quickly materialized which they refused to remedy.

    We are definitely following up as outlined above; thanks for the suggestions. I’ll keep folks posted as to the results.

  • Dear DC Government – thank you for your property tax bill. Once I have reviewed the bill, I issue a check in accordance with the figure as posted. The problem is that with budget cutbacks, the checkbook division does not currently have any dollars. I cannot tell you how long it will take for this problem to be remedied; but until then, I cannot pay any bills. I can review the bill, but that is all I can do for now.

    Whomever issued that response to the condo’s lawyers seriously needs a good dose of logic.

  • what is the president of your condo association planning to do? go with the HOA.

  • I agree with others that you should pursue this with higher-level officials who have the authority and clout to figure what exactly is going on and order the correct remedy. If they really don’t have enough money to keep a full-time engineer on staff, then they should be able to hire a contractor in the interim to handle individual cases so they can fulfill their enforcement responsibilities.

    On a side note, a former coworker of mine had a similar problem with her condo in Falls Church and several years later her condo association is still in a legal battle to claim damages from the developer (the defect caused water damage) and the condo owners have had to shell out their own personal money to fix the problem in order to protect against further damage. It sounds like DC (if they could actually enforce the laws on the books in a competent way) may actually have a better system set up to protect owners?

  • I have several friends that are having so many issues with condo purchases. From tenants not paying their condo fees to sloppy work by the developer, in almost every case, my friends have made purchases that have been a headache.

    Condo ownership should be near seamless. That’s what you pay for. But they seem to have as many headaches as a homeowner has. I would never buy a condo in DC unless it is in an affluent part of town with a very reputable developer. Too much risk otherwise. To have to deal with a dysfunctional DC gov’t only adds to the misery.

  • If the department you contacted is DCRA (which I think it would be) Linda Argo is the director, which now falls under Muriel Bowser’s committee of Public Services and Consumer Affairs. I would suggest you contact a staff member for Bowser’s committee and go from there. Jeremy Faust is the committee clerk and a good place to start. He’s been helpful with things in the past. (as the Grahamstander hasn’t met a developer he didn’t like, I would avoid contacting him if he’s your councilmember).

    Unfortunately this is a recurring problem in the city when they take what used to be a single-family row house and add to the top of it and make it four or more condos.

  • I had a problem with DCRA for almost a year, so finally I contacted my council member Tommy Wells, and the very next day DCRA fixed it.

  • My condo is in the same situation. We filed a claim against the bond (which is set to expire this month). I personally delivered the the request letter and spoke with the person in charge (forgot her name at the momen) and she said the same thing about no engineer on staff and no idea when they would get one. Our developer is actually a non-profit and we have about $30-40,000 in major issues to resolve. I am going to write to CM graham about this but I think we are all basically screwed.

  • In many of these issues, I never understand why Fenty is left off the hook. He is ultimately responsible. Council Members have oversight and can assist but we should be notifying Fenty he has a problem and demanding that he fix it.

  • Herb,
    Fenty was almost more sizzle. Any lawyer that can’t handle a simple probate issue should never even be considered for a council seat. Yet, we made this guy mayor. I will give him credit. He is good at constituent services. That is the easiest part of the job. That is what got me to vote for him. I wish someone like Catania or Evans would run against him. Unfortunately, Fenty will win the next election in a landslide.

    Everything Fenty has touched has been an absolute failure. Schools. Summer jobs. DCRA. Trying to inspect EVERY apartment in the city will be the next failure.

  • There is a statutory time limit on how long the developer’s bond has to stay up. If the DCRA letter is remotely true—it means that the timeframe for the bond will expire long before DCRA will move to act upon your claim.

    Email the City Paper.
    Email Graham’s office, and Linda Argo at DCRA.
    Consider expending the money to file suit against both DCRA and the developer. That will at least get their attention. The goal of the suit initially would be a tolling agreement whereby the developer and DCRA agree that the bond has to remain up until the problem is remedied. That bond is your best chance of getting any money out of the developer—you need to keep it “live”.

  • We are going through the same problem in our building. We’ve been fighting for close to two years to recuperate our bond money, as we have over a half million dollars worth of building issues (yes, our developer was the biggest crook of them all). He never posted an enforceable bond, the city has never taken responsibility, and guess who’s stuck paying for all these repairs: the homeowners! We’ve done everything you all mention above: contacted Mayor, he didn’t care. Contacted Councilmember, he definitely has pushed for us. Contacted everyone in DCRA: most broken agency on the planet. WON a court case against the developer: he still isn’t paying. I wish you luck, but having been directly involved in this for over a year and a half, I warn you you’re facing an uphill battle.
    Owning a condo in DC has been the biggest headache of my life. So glad my tax dollars are working for me.

  • Wow. I tend to take the view of ToldYouSo — isn’t the point of owning a condo (compared to owning a house) is that you’re paying someone else to handle these maintenance issues? That’s what the condo fee is for, right? If you own a house you have to pay a condo fee to yourself so that when things come up you can pay for them, here your condo fees are just going… *poof*? It seems like tenants have a lot more recourse in DC in that if a landlord didn’t tend to an issue like this you could withhold rent or take other action.

    This is crazy and I don’t envy anyone in this situation.

  • One day someone will finally capitulate and admit that I am right when i say that some people are incapable of running a fully functioning city. DC can’t do anything right! I mean almost nothing except write tickets. I avoid doing any transaction that puts me in their crosshairs. Buying a car. Registering a car in DC. Registering a gun.

    There is just too much incomptence in DC gov’t. It’s tolerable when they fail to plow the snow on the street. Not so much when you have hundreds of thousands on the line.

  • You’re only option is to go to the baseball stadium and contemplate the nature of budget shortfalls.

  • that looks like Jenny’s house!

    “sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks”

  • That’s funny, I didn’t even ask for a home inspector, he just showed up at my door. And now my taxes are jacked way up, thousands more….

  • Wow – it’s (kinda) good to know so many other people are experiencing these problems. Sad, though, that they are – but it doesn’t surprise me having lived in DC for the last 6 years. I have found FEW things in DC that work the way they should.

    I live in a building experiencing these problems, too, and along with the other owners, have been battling these issues for the two years I’ve lived here, all with no support or help from the District. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs? More like “Department of Good Luck and You’re on Your Own.” DCRA could not produce the construction blueprints for which we asked (which they were required to have). DCRA could not produce the proper construction permits for the project (hmmm). Were they even ever filed in the first place? Doesn’t surprise me, since our inspection identified a large number of construction items that weren’t even to code. Isn’t that the point of HAVING “code?” Without an engineer, are all new buildings being approved for sale without an inspection? And with this economy, more than EVER, developers are encouraged to take short cuts to cut costs. There was a new restaurant in Boston that had huge ceiling tiles fall (like 6’x8′), crashing atop dining guests recently – all because of shoddy construction.

    Is this another area akin to the Property Tax scandal where DC and DCRA allows scam developers to build below-grade buildings? Is someone getting a kick-back somewhere?

    I’m not an attorney, but something tells me there’s a class action law suit against the District somewhere in here. DC sets ‘regulations’ to which they’re even unable to comply. Those procedures in place to support residents and “consumers” then are inherently incapable of supporting them (warranties expire because the District cannot complete it’s end of the deal). Fraudulent, scamming, and deadbeat developers are then given ALL OPPORTUNITIES to continue to build more below-code buildings, with no oversight or legal ramifications.

    Any thoughts from anyone?

  • Yeah, the blueprint problem is one I’ve experienced as well. DCRA is an utter and complete joke. It would be nice if some of the major newspapers and TV stations would do an investigative report exposing this crap — maybe then there would be some political pressure to make changes. I think the chances of there NOT being kick-backs involved at some level (this is, after all, the construction industry) are infinitesimal.

  • DCRA “lost” my paperwork, blueprints, etc., I contacted my CM’s office, which contacted DCRA, and miraculously, DCRA found everything the very next day, and processed everything immediately.

  • After reading all of this, I think that I need to get a job with DCRA. Sounds like I could just sit on my ass all day and surf the internet.

  • DCRA is the worst place in the world. It’s true- look it up. I don’t fear fire and brimstone when I die; I fear that my soul might go to DCRA for all eternity.

    PS- but at least they got a brand new office last year. I’m sure that helped them all do a similarly crap-tastic job of whatever they do in an more ergonomic and well-lit fashion.

  • Thanks everyone for your comments on DCRA. The letter, however, is from the Department of Housing and Community Development and not DCRA.

    If any of you have issues or problems you can email me directly and we’ll fix them. While I can appreciate past frustrations, a lot of things have changed in the past two years and we are much, much better as we’ve trained employees, upgraded IT systems, and are working on getting rid of outdated policies and rules. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But contact me directly at [email protected] and we’ll do our best to solve any issues. Give us a chance. Thanks. And “Darkside,” come over and we’ll be happy to do a job exchange. 🙂

    – Mike Rupert, DCRA Communications Manager

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